Citizens' Issues
Anonymously browse, post through Tor to protect your privacy

Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity, including “visits to web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms”, back to the user. Tor is intended to protect users' personal privacy, freedom, and ability to conduct confidential business by keeping their internet activities from being monitored

If internet has enabled us to produce and consume content, it has also enabled the powers that govern us to keep an eye on what we do on the web. It would be naive for us to assume that you take a dive into the ocean and come out dry, and of course, there are footprints left behind. Take the recent case of girls being arrested for their comments on Facebook or a person arrested for comments on Twitter against a minister's son. No matter what you do on in cyberspace, where you do from, our government is hand in glove with ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to keep an eye on you.

 

So it seems. Should we be afraid to do anything on the web? Should we be living in the fear that I write a blog about a government policy and wait for the police to knock on my door? To me, this is another case of policy makers defining policies from their ivory towers. Our ministers lack core knowledge of the portfolio they hold. Even their babu advisors have not kept up the pace in their respective fields. Sometimes I fail to understand that what an actor has to do with the tourism ministry or a lawyer has to do with HRD ministry? Does being young entitle someone to handle the IT and communications ministry? Can our ministers switch portfolios irrespective of their academic and professional background as they change their robes?

 

Internet is a treasure trove of information. At the click of a mouse you dive into an ocean of information—so deep and vast that you can't imagine a physical library to substitute it. Internet is not just a source of information; it is also a medium to express yourself via social networks, blogs, forums, etc.

   

Coming back to surveillance on the internet, in the modern technological world millions of individuals are subject to privacy threats. Companies are hired to not only watch what individuals visit online, but to infiltrate the information and send advertising based on one's browsing history.

 

There is still a way to browse the Internet and not let the powers that be know what you did. There is an open source project called ‘Tor’ (originally short for The Onion Router), which allows us to browse internet anonymously. Tor was started by US Naval Research Laboratory and later open sourced. It was started to allow citizens in oppressive regimes like Iran and China to browse censored content. This explains the backing of US. However, it is now run by a non-profit organization with funding from the US government. As of 2012, 80% of the Tor Project’s $2 million annual budget comes from the United States government, with the Swedish government and other organizations providing the rest, including NGOs and thousands of individual sponsors.

   

To understand the way Tor works, one first needs to understand the way Internet works. At a very basic level, your browser on your behalf requests for something (get/push some content) on a server. The server responds back telling you whether it was able to do what you requested or not. While doing this you are directly talking to the server through your ISP. Traffic goes to the server from your ISP. While the traffic is in transit, it could have been logged and stored either by the server itself or even by your ISP. Not just the request is logged, who, where and when made the request could also be logged. This is what enables the tracking. One catch here is that the server needs to reside in the native country for the government to get a hold otherwise there is the ISP anyway. Since ISP is the mediator between you and server, it can also regulate the content on government's orders.

   

Tor has a worldwide volunteer network of relays. If you browse Internet through a Tor client, then your traffic is routed through these relays, after being encrypted multiple times. At each relay, the data is decrypted one layer at a time, passing the remaining encrypted data to the next relay and the final relay in the chain sends it to desired server. If you visit a different site, then a different relay chain is chosen. Your ISP can only see your request to the first relay, while the server would see the request came from the last relay.

 

The best part in this system is that your request will go through many different regions making it more difficult to detect. At no point can anyone determine from where the request originated unless all the relays in the chain are in the same country and someone is able to decode the pattern and the encryption. The only weak links here are the entry and exit relay—though they are tough to crack. Tor will be as effective as is their relay network. More the relays, greater the anonymity.

   

So using Tor you can browse Internet anonymously. However, as they say with great power comes great responsibility. Although Tor was developed to protect the users’ anonymity, it has been misused for illegal activities like selling drugs and pornography. So it is just like a hammer—either you can use it to nail the doors or to bang someone. It depends on the person using it. The users of Tor have to be careful that they always browse internet via Tor when they are doing things, which require a user ID and password. Even if once you use the same user ID and password without Tor, the ISP or the server might sniff out the pattern.

 

Like all current low latency anonymity networks, Tor cannot and does not attempt to protect against monitoring of traffic at the boundaries of the Tor network, i.e. the traffic entering and exiting the network. While Tor does provide protection against traffic analysis, it cannot prevent traffic confirmation also called end-to-end correlation.

   

While we are on the subject of privacy, a note about browsers is worth mentioning. It is always better to use free (not as in free beer—to be read as freedom) and open source browsers instead of the ones which you would categorize as freeware (as in free beer) or proprietary. Free and open source software's prime focus is user privacy while others are here to earn the bucks even if they are giving the browser free. No matter what the critics say about speed and usability, for me, privacy is of paramount importance. I would also encourage readers to find out the difference between free software and freeware. Even the experts in IT do not understand this difference!

   

It is also advisable to use the private browsing mode. It would be worth a while to explore the preferences section of your browser to customize it according to your privacy needs. For those who are willing to explore beyond the regular Windows/ Mac operating system, they can consider installing an anonymous Linux distribution, which can be used just to browse the web. Their other activities can be done through the regular OS.

   

Smartphones, which are the in thing now also aid in the surveillance. There are a chunk of companies which can remotely monitor what you do on your smartphone and let the government know about it. They are together in this along with the smart phone manufacturers and mobile service providers—they built this feature in the first place. Everything right from your location, text messages, emails, contacts and call records can be monitored remotely. Luckily, in this area, we have a free and open source alternative. It has not yet arrived in India, but should be something to keep an eye on.

 

(The author writes with a pseudonym of Prathmesh Bhargav)

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COMMENTS

Jesal A Mehta

3 years ago

Today everything I do and I mean literally everything I do, leaves an electronic footprint somewhere. Sometimes I wonder whether technology is going be the boon or bane for mankind...

pravsemilo

3 years ago

Subscribing to comment feed. Mere replying to a comment doesn't subscribe to feed.

Jesal A Mehta

4 years ago

Considering that the TOR Project is originally a US Navy project and is still majorly funded by the US Govt., can we be sure that the US govt does not have a back door into TOR to track who and what they want.

I would be very surprised if it isn't there... so in that case how anonymous am I???

REPLY

pravsemilo

In Reply to Jesal A Mehta 3 years ago

Tor was originally a US Navy project and it still receives substantial funding from US government. But it is an open source project to which people contribute from all over the world. The relays in Tor are also spread worldwide, so US government can't lay hands on them. Had there been a backdoor it would have been found / fixed.

Consider this, Anonymous - the hacktivist group uses Tor. US govt would be the first to discover their identities.

Jesal A Mehta

In Reply to pravsemilo 3 years ago

After reading the latest news on Uncle Sam keeping both eyes on foreigners data through the companies named, I wouldn't place any bets on TOR.

You really think US Govt. be the single largest finder of a project which basically goes against their security policies and is used by its top Cyber enemies!!!

If Anonymous is using TOR then the only reason the US Govt isn't uncovering them publicly is coz it probably serves some larger purpose in the US Govts grand scheme if things for Anonymous to remain Anonymous to the public.

Sorry but I don't buy your theory that in spite of contributing 80% of the TOR budget, the US govt doesn't have a back door entry...

pravsemilo

In Reply to Jesal A Mehta 3 years ago

On the contrary with all these happenings, Tor is becoming more and more important.

You have to understand that it is the companies which are sharing the data. Companies are able to gather data for a user based on the browsing pattern and this is what Tor addresses. You login to a website always from your office, the website admin knows about it. You click on a link, website admin even knows that. But if you browse anonymously you are creating the impression that you are not using the some computer all the time.

If you are browsing through servers not located in US then US gov't can't track you. This is also the reason why Tor relays are present world wide. This is also the reason why our government has been insisting on blackberry to have its servers here.

The only reason I can think of why US government funds Tor is that it helps US to prevent censorship is countries like China, Korea, Iran etc.

You might also want to have a look at http://www.zdnet.com/ask-a-hacker-top-fo....

pravsemilo

In Reply to pravsemilo 3 years ago

Correction - US govt would "want to" be the first to discover their identities.

N Kanitkar

4 years ago

OK. I got my answer from the site itself. It can be used on the Mac or on a GNU/Linux system.

N Kanitkar

4 years ago

OK. I got my answer from the site itself. It can be used on the Mac or on a GNU/Linux system.

N Kanitkar

4 years ago

Excellent article.Can i use Tor on a Mac.

N Kanitkar

4 years ago

Excellent article.Can i use Tor on a Mac.

SANJAY GUPTA

4 years ago

But you have not given details or links to this TOR and how to download it .Is mozilla free software or freeware

REPLY

pravsemilo

In Reply to SANJAY GUPTA 4 years ago

Mozilla is a not for profit software foundation. It has a range of free softwares like Firefox, Thunderbird etc. These are not freewares.

SANJAY GUPTA

In Reply to pravsemilo 4 years ago

thanks a lot

pravsemilo

In Reply to SANJAY GUPTA 4 years ago

Please visit https://http://www.torproject.org/

SANJAY GUPTA

In Reply to pravsemilo 4 years ago

thanks!

SEBI promises speedier actions against market manipulators; seeks more powers

The capital market watchdog has asked the government to empower it to carry out search and seizure operations, to attach properties and to ask for information and records for all relevant entities

Pitching for a major overhaul of the powers it has got to deal with market manipulators, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) says there is an urgent need to carry out these changes to ensure speedier probes and fast-track prosecution of the culprits.

 

The capital markets watchdog has asked the government to empower it to carry out search and seizure operations, to attach properties and to ask for information and records for all relevant entities.

 

Besides, SEBI has also asked the government to streamline the procedures involved in execution of its existing powers.

 

“At times it has been difficult for us in many cases to move forward in absence of these powers.

 

“Also, there are long procedures involved in executing many powers that we already have and we want those processes to be streamlined,” SEBI chairman, UK Sinha, said.

 

“The expectation is that once we get these powers, then we would be able to move really fast on the investigations that we undertake, and on the actions we need to take against the culprits and in bringing to book all the manipulators and others defrauding the investors,” Sinha said.

 

Noting that SEBI has come a long way since it was set up 25 years ago in 1988 as an independent regulator, its eighth chairman said that the time has come for an overhaul of the regulations governing SEBI’s powers and other functions.

 

“Now we have found that there are certain lacunae in the regulations and there are certain areas where more clarity is required.

 

“There are some powers that we already have, but the procedures to execute those powers are very difficult,” Sinha said.

 

“We don’t have the direct powers to recover the dues, the powers to attach properties, etc. Many such powers are already there with some other regulators and the agencies such as the Competition Commission of India and the tax departments, among others,” the SEBI chief said.

 

“Another area where we face difficulties is while seeking information or records from various entities in the process of our investigations. What happens is that these entities tell us that they do not fall under SEBI jurisdiction and, therefore, they are not required to provide information to us.

 

“We face lots of difficulties in getting these details.

 

“There is also the issue of call data records that we need to establish that two parties have been talking to each other and could be related entities.

 

“We also do not have search and seizure powers, which is there with some other agencies,” he added.

 

Experts say that the lack of these powers was felt in a big way during some of the recent cases, including the high profile Sahara case, where SEBI could pass attachment orders only after a Supreme Court directive.

 

Besides, hundreds of entities have managed to avoid paying penalties imposed by SEBI, as the regulator does not have any direct powers to recover these penalties.

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2G spectrum scam: Niira Radia deposes in court, says STPL was ‘not eligible’

During her examination by the CBI prosecutor, Radia told the court that at the time of grant of licences, dossiers were in circulation which said Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd belonged to Reliance Communications

Appearing in the court for the first time, former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia today said she felt that Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd “was not eligible” to get the 2G spectrum licences as it was said to belong to Reliance ADAG group company Reliance Communications.

 

Testifying as a prosecution witness in CBI court in the case, she said that during the time of grant of spectrum, there was a very strong public perception that Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd (STPL) was not eligible.

 

STPL’s promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka are facing trial in the case.

 

“During the time of grant of spectrum, there was a very strong public perception created by the media of eligibility and non-eligibility. Through the public perception and advice of Tata advocates, I came to know that this company (Swan Telecom) was not eligible,” Radia told Special CBI Judge OP Saini.

 

During her examination-in-chief by the CBI prosecutor, she told the court that at the time of grant of licences, dossiers were in circulation which said Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd belonged to Reliance Communications.

 

“At that time, there were dossiers in circulation that the company (Swan Telecom) belonged to Reliance Communications, though I do not have any authentic or personal knowledge,” she said.

 

Radia said her public relations company was advising Tatas on telecom matters and Tata Teleservices (TTSL) had applied for dual technology licences in 2007.

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